Diary of a Marked Woman
It must be terrifying for young people to realize that the world we’re passing on to them suffers from systemwide dysfunction. If I were a parent I’d be ashamed. If I were a teenager or a young adult I’d be extremely angry at my parents’ generation. We burned almost all the fossil fuels, we polluted the air, the water and the earth with extremely toxic chemicals so that the life-giving food and water are slow-acting poisons instead, we exhausted the fish in the sea, we raise food animals in concentration camps, we cut down the forests, we brought fauna and flora to extinction, we’re running out of space to dispose of our garbage, temperate zones are getting tropical, deserts are expanding fast and now, sweetie, you deal with it. Inherit the wind. That was the substance of my concerns for the two days I spent at mother’s house. This and secret societies.
We were sitting in the living room after lunch. There was a pile of catholic magazines in front of me and I started to read them. After about an hour mother wanted to read something to me. It was a book about water called “Water - the Forgotten Miracle” by Jacques Collin. I don’t know anything about molecules, ions, electrons, neutrons etc. and that was the subject under discussion. There was also a dissertation on the spiritual and anti-ageing properties of pure water, a demonstration of why mineral water is bad for you and worse than tap water, and an explanation of a water-purifying system called reverse osmosis. I was particularly interested in that topic. Not long ago I had asked Norbert if he knew what it was but he didn’t know. The book also said that plastic containers are bad because some toxic chemical components of plastic dissolve into the water.
After a while I asked to do the reading and we spent a good part of the afternoon that way. I realized that she was doing like Norbert: many times when I visited him: he had occupied much of our time together with reading. Was that a manoeuver to avoid speaking about certain topics? Mom mentioned a spring nearby that attracted people from miles around because the water was particularly pure. She said that she’d like to go there and get some. She had only one two-liter and one liter plastic bottles.
During the evening news there was a mention of “la grande criminalité” so I asked mom what it was but she didn’t answer.
The next morning I told Mom about the two extra keys I had found in the drawer of my table in my apartment and about the evidence that someone had come into my apartment while I was out. She said “Then you must put on another lock!” but I said that there was no use, when a locksmith was dishonest nothing could stop him. I told her of my similar experience in New York after spending $800. She said I was being a little bit paranoid and protested that Sassy was an honest man, he would never have done anything like this.
We talked about Sophie and her daughter and grand-children. I said that I had a hard time believing what she had said about the husband molesting them because when I had visited them last summer I hadn’t felt anything wrong, the children acted normal, I had played with them and nothing in their play had indicated any trouble, though of course I’m not an expert. If it wasn’t true, why would Sophie make up such a horrible story? Since I broke up with her on May 2nd all the resentment I had accumulated against her over the past year surfaced. I had accepted a lot of unpleasantness from her as quirks of a difficult personality and had maintained a neutral position before making a judgment about her, but on May 2nd she really passed the limit and I didn’t want to deal with her anymore. It had become obvious to me that she was in a power trip that made her want to dominate me and probably other people. “You have to choose between power (meaning domination) and love, you can’t have both,” I said. I also said that if the molestation was true, Sophie bore some responsibility because in her view an engineer was a good catch for her daughter and she had probably put pressure on Rose Anne to marry him. “Oh, I don’t think she put pressure on Rose Anne,” Mom said. “The two met in a workshop.” I also told her how it had infuriated me when Sophie put her grandchildren on the phone to talk to me and she had stage-whispered to them what to say to me. “She seems to have the same philosophy as the marquis de Sade,” I said “And you know,” Mom added, “she had a crucifix with a woman on it.” “Well,” I said, “it’s blasphemy.” I said I didn’t see it in her apartment, so Mom said that it was in her house in Reims.
I said that Sophie had asked me a lot of questions about my business and with all the information I had given her I was worried that she might harm me. I said that she had done the same thing when I was in the US and that soon after I had answered her questions my business was destroyed. “But she doesn’t speak English, so how could she interfere with your business in the United States?”
She suggested that we go some place to visit after lunch. She had a few maps and guides so I made a few suggestions. I would have liked to visit Rouen, the city where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in (????) or Giverny where Monet had painted the water-lilies and so many other masterpieces but she didn’t want to go to a city nor get closer to Paris so she made the decision. The plan was to visit something in “Blahville” (I forgot the real name).
Later she told me that some time in the past she had eaten a poisonous mushroom and got very sick. I asked for details. She said that she found the mushroom on the property and picked it up, looked it up in a special book and ate it. (I imagined it must have been a very big mushroom because there was only one.) She said that it had an unpleasant feel in the mouth but tasted all right, and that later she started to feel very bad all over. She called her friend next door who came and told her that she looked terrible and she called the ambulance. The medics “rushed to the kitchen because that’s where they always go first, suspecting suicide by poisoning,” and found the book opened at the wrong page: Mother had identified the mushroom among the poisonous ones but thought she was in the edible mushrooms section. She had her stomach pumped.
Then she played a CD of poems by St John of the Cross. They were in Spanish. I knew neither that the saint was Spanish nor that he was a poet (Oh! A poet!). “I love Spanish,” I said. “It’s such a beautiful language!” And Mom, who doesn’t know Spanish from radish, pronounced a few words in a declamatory voice and I got the feeling that she was usurping me because I’m fluent in Spanish but don’t make a fuss about it. Then her next door friend showed up. Mom introduced me and we shook hands. The woman wanted Mom to listen to a CD of religious songs. Mom played it some and said that she didn’t like it. After she stopped the CD player she suggested I show my bags to her friend. At Mom’s suggestion I had given her a dozen bags and scarves before she left on her Easter trip because she was going to see a lot of people, so these things were still with her. I had had some trepidation about the deal, suspecting that it would give her the opportunity to play a dirty trick on me, but she had somewhat alleviated my qualms by requesting a list of all the items with the price and she had given me a 200 Euros check.
At the top of the bag was the beret I had given her last Christmas, which she told me in February she couldn’t find. I need now to make a small digression:
Almost every time I saw Mother since I returned from the US in May 2002 she mentioned a present I had given her that she had lost, e.g. (In a very worried, sorry tone of voice) “Do you know I can’t put my hands on this little wood carving you gave me?” (For Christmas around 1980). She mentioned it twice since my return to France. Then there was the beret. In a similar vein, there also were the presents I gave her that she never used: the cookbooks, kitchen utensils, flower vases and whatnot, the records she never played or that she disparaged (see Mozart’s Requiem in 1990).
Since Sophie voiced a fierce hatred of Mom I told her indignantly about the lost present gambit, implying that it was a ploy to psych me out. And now, not only the beret was resurfacing, but Mom was also using a flower vase I gave her for Mother’s day in 1983, two or three months before leaving to the US for my 19-year stay. I remember I was very angry at her at the time and bought the pretty but mediocre vase at a discount store, and for once I didn’t hurt myself financially to give her a present. But anyway it did bring me pleasure to see that she was using something I gave her.
* * *
So there I was with the large plastic bag containing all the bags and scarves I had made recently, acceding to Mom’s suggestion that I show my stuff to her friend who was sitting at the table turning her back to me. The bag was on the floor behind the lady and she had to twist her torso and her head around to have a look, an effort that she made ever so reluctantly. I realize now (6-19-3) that I was reduced to the position of a street peddler, pulling my beautiful production like so much junk out of a bag on the floor. I wasn’t in the mood to talk about my activity to begin with and showed my stuff only half heartedly. I could tell that the woman wasn’t interested anyway and I didn’t want to make the effort of a sales pitch, which I’m not good at to begin with. So I only showed her a few items out of the dozen or so that was in the bag. The woman said that she liked the red bag and that they were very well made. “Thank you,” I said. “I have a very good seamstress.” I wanted her to know that I delegated the production while taking care of creation and management. She mentioned a store in the city that sold handicrafts and said they might want to buy some of my work. After she was gone Mom said: “Why did you say that you didn’t sew the bags yourself? You don’t have to put yourself down!” As if she were intent on building my self-esteem!
Later she gave me to read a short text about the spiritual merits of washing dishes. “Agnès [the feminist sister-killer] gave it to me,” she said. “Do you see who wrote it?” and she pointed proudly to the name at the bottom: D. H. Lawrence. D. H. Lawrence? Oh, now, come on Mom!
While we were preparing lunch she said something and then added “I’ve finally come to a stage in my life where I’m able to say no.” As if she’d been too generous and self-effacing! As if she’d done some deep self-analysis like I did! Was this another usurpation? This is one of the most disingenuous statements I’ve heard her make because she has consistently denied me my rights all my life: higher education, health and dental care, clothing, shoes, underwear, even sanitary napkins one summer when I was 14. It’s because she said no that I was evicted from my apartment in New York in 1999.
After lunch we drove in the countryside in the direction of Blahville, or so I assumed. We were in the middle of a sunny valley when Mom showed me some tall ruins in the shade at the foot of the hill on our left. “It used to be a factory. I’ve been there once,” she said. “I find the place sinister.” Nevertheless she made a left and drove there. We found ourselves on a narrow, deserted road and passed the roofless, gutted factory. Only the external walls remained. They were very tall, with tall, narrow gothic windows. I found it very strange that a building dedicated to commerce would borrow architectural details from the Church. Was it symbolic? Was I supposed to draw conclusions from it?
Without speaking Mom drove on slowly and stopped in a parking area. Nearby were the 13th Century Normand-Gothic ruins of a convent named “Abbaye Notre Dame de Fontaine-Guérard” It was in the municipality of Radepont (zip code 27380). We followed an arrow pointing to a ticket office and I was very surprised to see two clean-shaven men in their forties there. We must have been their only customers that day. They were generous with historical trivia. They explained that the factory had been built with the stones of the convent so it was impossible to rebuild the convent. There was a cardboard scale model of the factory. It had the proportions of a cathedral. They told us that we could visit the caves, that there was a flashlight at the entrance and we went there first. They were at ground level. I lit up the flashlight and saw small cells a few feet apart in the stone walls. It reminded me of the underground structure I visited with Mom in Conches back in 1990. There were cells there too. We went out and walked to the main buildings. Mother said that she had been there once already and didn’t care to visit the entire buildings so I wandered alone in the deserted halls while mom went to the herb garden. I read in the leaflet that back in the 13th Century a noble woman took refuge in the convent because her husband beat her but he found her and managed to kill her anyway, in the church where she had fled for safety. I mentioned it to Mom who made no comment.
We walked for a while in the herb garden then walked to the parking lot. I stopped to roll a cigarette and smoke it before getting into the car as Mom kept walking. Along the path was a stream that started in front of the convent. I stopped to look. Yes, the stream sprang right in front of me, forming a round basin about ten feet in diameter with a sandy bottom. The flow was abundant and the stream was about eight feet wide with a fast current. At the end of the path it merged into the Andelle river. It’s not everyday that you see a spring and I was impressed but didn’t say anything.
As soon as we were in the car Mom started reciting a poem by Ronsard. (Oh! A poet!) Ah! Ronsard! He’s one of the first poets we studied in high school. That brought me back to the mid Sixties I think. I was amazed that she could recite the poem so well. For my part I had forgotten most of it but hearing her jogged my memory and I tried to recite with her.
In the supermarket I suggested that she buy some container for the water but she passed. At the salad stand I said I’d like some roquette but she said no vehemently. She had eaten roquette all winter and was tired of it so she took some watercress. At some point we were in front of the frozen food shelves. She mumbled something and walked away. For a minute I didn’t know what to do and stood motionless in the aisle. She walked back and asked me in a nasty, furious tone what was the matter with me. “But what do you want me to do?” I asked. “I told you to chose a frozen dish for tonight!” she said, exasperated, and she gestured to the glass-enclosed frozen food shelves. I never buy frozen dishes because they are expensive and of poor quality and taste and it may have been because I was still imbued with the morning’s reading about pure water and our outing in the countryside that I didn’t get what she said. The contrast created a cognitive dissonance. But wasn’t it nice of Mom to let me choose? Too bad the choice was from a category I didn’t like in the first place.
There was an assortment of ready to bake pies and, knowing that all the mouth-watering photographs were deceptive, I chose “Aunt Soizic’s Salmon Pie - An Old Fashioned Recipe from Brittany”. (Excuse me but there’s no salmon in Brittany.)
When we got out of the supermarket I saw a store that was making and selling leather clothes so I told Mom I wanted to have a look for a minute and I would get into the car when she came out of the small parking lot. When I was done looking I walked to the edge of the parking lot and started waiting... and waiting... and waiting. I hadn’t paid attention where we were parked so I didn’t know where to look A lot of questions came to my mind, one of them being: “Did she leave without me?” That old feeling of abandonment, so devastating to little children, she was still trying to traumatize me with it though she’s 77 and I’m 50. Finally I saw the car back up from the parking spot and I walked toward it. Mom gave me a bright happy smile.
Next we went to the suburb where the handicrafts store was. Mom parked and stayed in the car and I took the large bag with my items inside and walked into the store. I told the manager about my activity and she told me that she bought only from a specific wholesaler from an organization dedicated to Fair Trade. I took a minute to look at the handicrafts from all over the world and the prices and walked out. I told Mom about the situation. “And you didn’t even show her your bags!” she asked, in feigned astonishment and regret. “Why, there was no point in doing that,” I said. She and her good Christian friend had set me up but they hadn’t got me all the way. So, there was the dirty trick! What Mom wanted was for me to show my wares, waste time, psychological and emotional energy by explaining my concept to the wrong people and be rejected. Hence her insistence on showing to her friend, and to the store manager when she already knew that the store wouldn’t buy. (She pretended not to know the store by passing it and having me ask in a bar where it was.)
On the way back I asked about François and Essivi’s newborn baby. Since Essivi is black I asked what color was the baby. Mom said that he was white, that he would become darker only later. I asked about the little girl that François had adopted. When would she come to France? Mom said that my brother thought that she was better off where she was in Togo so he wasn’t planning to have her come live with him and Essivi who is the girl’s aunt. She said that Colin, my brother’s son by his first wife, was living with him and that François taught him English.
We got home around 5. She talked to me about a problem of water seepage on the terrace. The tile joints had deteriorated and she was expecting a contractor for an estimate of the repairs. She also said that she was going to have water meters installed in the five apartments she owns in the building where I live in Paris. (Meaning she wouldn’t be able to support me anymore.) I built a fire in the fireplace because it was a bit chilly. I had told her I was doing some research on secret societies and asked mildly if she belonged to one. She said no, but that once there had been a conference on the Rosicrucian society nearby that she had wanted to attend, but didn’t attend after all. She said that there was a book about secret societies somewhere in the house. There also was a four-volume encyclopedia of the divinatory arts, folio format, leather bound. She said these came from a tenant whom Dad had evicted. I told her the Bible forbade any kind of divination as work of the Devil. She pleaded for an exception for numerology because it was an ancient science that came from the Chaldeans. It was because my name was numerologically incorrect that she had changed it to Axelle when I was 14, without asking for my opinion.
There was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” I said. A tall, hulking man was facing me. “Good afternoon,” I said, “This way, please,” and I led him to the living room. He sat at the dining table with my mother while I started looking for the book about secret societies in the bookshelves at the other end of the room. I inspected carefully the entire library to no avail. This book collection of maybe 150-200 books has always been a big disappointment. My father never read and never bought any books, and all the books my mother bought were on religious themes, or maybe 90% of them, the remainder being about alternative medicines. The literature section was composed of yellowed paper bound books by authors who had had some success in the 1940's or 50's, and of a dozen books of classics in the Pléïade collection, the complete works in one volume printed on Bible paper. Those expensive books belonged to my father but I never -ever- saw him open a single one. I realize now that one reason I loved him as a child was because I ascribed to him a taste in literature, because these Pléïade books were “Daddy’s books” but since I’ve matured I ‘ve ended up believing that he had obtained them for a song from some desperate literate Jew during the Nazi occupation of France because they were a bargain but he didn’t really care about them. Same thing for his stamp collection.
Growing up, it was very frustrating not to find any book of interest in the house, since we lived isolated in the countryside and were not allowed to go to the city. Not even a current dictionary: the only dictionary we grew up with was falling apart, mended with yellowed Scotch tape, the leaves yellow and brittle and was printed in the late 19th Century (I checked recently). Not even a current encyclopedia. Couldn’t my parents have invested in some reference works with six children? I never even heard of public libraries when I lived with my parents. When you know that knowledge is power, it’s pretty obvious that our parents didn’t want us to have power.
I returned to the middle of the room empty handed and was standing by the fireplace where two logs were glowing when the contractor got up and, to my surprise, shook my hand to say goodbye and asked me in a strange tone why I wasn’t making a better fire. Was that any of his business? “I’m gonna take care of it in a minute,” I said.
When he was gone Mom talked to me about the two different estimates that she got and showed me a brochure. The two contractors were proposing two different techniques for waterproofing the terrace. The prices were, I think, between ten and fifteen thousand Euros. Mom closed the subject by saying that her tenants downstairs had been complaining that the water that seeped through the balcony was staining the roof of their cars so she had no choice but to fix the problem. That involved removing all the tiles on the two terraces and the balcony, and laying a waterproof surface.
It was time to get dinner ready and Mom asked me to put the frozen pie in the oven. God! Not only did I hate the thing but I also had to bake it in an oven I had never used before! The pie was much, much smaller than the box it came in. I fumbled for a while with the oven controls. I didn’t read the instructions on the box and Mom told me the temperature and the time and I didn’t want to take care of it anymore. I let her handle the rest and set the table. We ate the soup and then she brought the pie. I’m laughing now as I write this because it’s not the first time she played this “YOU-CAN’T- COOK” psyop on me. (See the “brick à l’oeuf” in 1990). And I got caught again. The pie, of course, was grossly over-baked: dark brown and black and all shrunk and dried out .Neither of us made any comment on the dismal dish. Mom cut me a quarter and I, disgusted and crestfallen ate only a mouthful of it, while she devoured a much bigger slice with a nerve-wracking chewing noise, enjoying herself apparently. Please, doctor, help me etc...
[cont'd: May 4/4 ] [to ToC] [Home]